GT catches up with Kirby Scudder and Mark Halfmoon while they’re on the road
Joni Mitchell, the Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas, the Eagles, Tupac and Katy Perry have one thing in common: They have all sang about California. But what inspired these myriad artists to profess their love for the Golden State? Local artist Kirby Scudder and filmmaker Mark Halfmoon are in the process of making an educated guess.
When GT caught up with our real-time documentarians in May, they were about to embark on a counterclockwise road trip around California to find out what inspires people about the state. On a mission to disprove the pessimistic image of Californians in the media, Scudder and Halfmoon hoped to provide an outlet for locals to share their passion and experiences.
“Over the last decade, there has been a lot of negative language about California,” says Scudder. “But if this place is so bad, why has no one left?”
To find out, the two set out with the ambitious goal of collecting 900 stories in 90 days from 50 cities and towns to be compiled into a travelogue documentary called Inspired by California. Financed by a poster sale on inspiredbycalifornia.com, the project continues to seek sponsors.
Just 21 days into the trip and about 60 to 70 interviews down, they’ve already come to some surprising conclusions about the attitudes of Californians amidst high unemployment rates, the housing debacle and budget cuts.
“We’ve found that things are thriving in California,” Scudder says. “People are traveling and engaging in outdoor activities. There is not a lot of evidence of the horror that these politicians are talking about.”
To reach this understanding, the two have asked natives the following three questions: what inspires you about California; what are the unique resources available to you in this state that sets it apart from other parts of the world; and tell us one personal story about California, that could only happen in California.
So far, Scudder and Halfmoon have done everything from interviewing a woman in her Italian villa in Paso Robles, to spending time with urban farmers in Los Angeles, to talking with Long Beach fishermen in front of the famous vessel Queen Mary.
Besides man-on-the-street reporting, the filmmakers have partnered with the California Travel and Tourism Commission to arrange interviews with politicians and celebrities, all of which can be viewed on the project website.
“We’ll see someone fishing on the pier and we’ll talk to them, some are friends of ours, others we set up interviews with ahead of time,” says Scudder. “This Saturday we’re even going to interview Ingrid Croce, the wife of ’70s singer-songwriter Jim Croce.”
While they’ll admit that many interviewees get nervous about being on camera, when they explain the purpose of the project, most people are motivated to share their stories.
“We acknowledge that what we’re really asking people is what inspires them, period,” Halfmoon says. “Even when people complain about the state, it doesn’t take much to nudge them into talking about what they love.”
Rather than focusing on the disparaging realities of the economic downturn, the majority of testimonials they’ve collected so far have been positive, focusing on things like year-round sunshine and the land as reasons why California is a desirable place to live.
“People like the diversity of the terrain as well as the diversity of the people with all of their ethnicities and nationalities,” says Halfmoon, who is proud to say that he feels safe in every corner of the state.
To this day, California remains an idyllic dreamland of opportunity for many. Scudder credits this largely movie-enforced mythology as the reason for his own decision to leave the East Coast behind.
“I fell in love with it back in the ’70s and it took me 20 years to make the move,” says Scudder. “To hear the state being trashed when I spent most of my adult life trying to get out here is really annoying—that effort inspired me to do this project.”
An important part of the documentary for Halfmoon is not only capturing the beauty of California’s population, but also its landscape on camera. Whether that means taking photos of the rolling hills or filming the critically endangered California condor, he hopes that the final product will screen at the 2011 Santa Cruz Film Festival and will provide the audience with a comprehensive glance of what he loves about the state.
“It’s the seashore, the high Sierras, the redwoods, the deserts blooming in the spring,” says Halfmoon. “There’s a spiritualism to the area. It feels like home to me and it has for a long time.”
Though the filmmakers won’t wrap up their journey until early August, Scudder believes that the project already has a resounding theme: “People who live here, love it, and people who don’t live here, want to be here.”
For more information, visit inspiredbycalifornia.com.